Are There Options Other Than Surgery to Treat My Bunions?

If you have a painful bunion, you’re not alone. Statistics show that more than 30 percent of adults in the U.S. have bunions, a condition that occurs when the big toe joint becomes deformed. Many factors can cause or contribute to bunions, including the shoes we wear. In fact, data from Harvard Medical School shows that women are about 10 times more likely to develop bunions compared to men, likely due to wearing high heels or shoes with tight and pointy toes. When the toes are crowded into a small toe box, it forces the big toe joint out of alignment, and over time, the deformity may become permanent.

The main underlying cause of bunions, though, is your inherited foot shape. People with low arches or flat feet are more likely to develop bunions, and so are those with loose or very flexible joints. If your toe joint is loose or if your foot shape puts a lot of pressure on your big toe joint or the inner side of your foot, the joint itself will be more likely to "bend" out of shape over time, especially if you also wear ill-fitting shoes.

Very severe bunions may require surgery to correct the joint deformity, restore normal shape and function, and relieve painful symptoms. While bunion surgery is certainly safe, it’s typically only reserved for people for whom more conservative treatments have failed. At The Frazier Foot and Ankle Clinic, we offer our patients several nonsurgical options for bunion treatment to help them relieve symptoms and restore normal joint function.

Nonsurgical treatment options

Since many bunions form as a result of the shoes we wear, one of the first steps in treating a bunion and relieving pain is to change your shoes. High heels are a big no-no for women with bunions. That's because the sloped angle of a high-heeled shoe causes the foot to slide forward, crowding the toes into a very cramped and restricted space. The added pressure on the toe joint can force it out of its normal position, resulting in bulging and deformity. The same is true of shoes with very pointy toes or small, cramped toe areas. Instead, look for shoes with good arch support and plenty of room in the toe area (sometimes called the toe box).

Therapeutic exercise can be very helpful in relieving bunions, especially in their early stages when the joint is still flexible. Not only can exercise keep the joint flexible, but it can also strengthen the ligaments and help gently restore the joint to its normal position, especially when used in conjunction with a special splint or support. Splints are like tiny toe braces, and they're generally worn at night. The splint helps hold the toe joint in a normal position, reducing inflammation and irritation while enabling the joint to "heal" in place.

Custom orthotics are another good choice for many people who have bunions and who want to avoid surgery. A custom orthotic fits inside your shoes and provides your foot with the support and cushioning it needs to relieve pain and support normal joint health. Custom orthotics are much more effective than over-the-counter pads and bunion cushions because they're designed for your specific foot shape and symptoms, as well as your unique diagnosis. Plus, they're much more durable and very long-lasting, so they can be a very budget-friendly solution over time. Orthotics are made on a patient-by-patient basis using strong yet comfortable materials, and they can be crafted to fit in most types of shoes, including athletic shoes, dress shoes, and high heels.

And finally, if your bunions are causing a lot of pain, taking over-the-counter pain medication, soaking your feet in warm water, and applying ice packs (for no longer than about 20 minutes at a time) can help relieve inflammation and discomfort.

Get relief for your bunion pain

The first step in relieving bunion pain and restoring normal joint function is to see a podiatrist at the first sign of symptoms. At The Frazier Foot and Ankle Clinic, we offer a wide array of treatment options based on each patient's individual needs for the best possible outcomes. To learn more about bunion treatment or to schedule an evaluation, book an appointment online today.

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